There are different ways of measuring what it is like to live in a recession. If you are a Dean, you spend a long time, listening to people explain graphs and bar charts, telling you that it is bad and not getting better. You do not need the graphs however, to know that we are in trouble. Newspapers and television and radio tell us about recession and have startling stories of what it means in Greece, in Spain, and in Portugal. Or, we only need to walk down any High Street and notice the shutters going up. Suddenly, it seems, familiar names may not become familiar to our children: Jessops, Comet, HMV, Blockbuster.
There are all sorts of ways of measuring out this recession. There is one index though that is harder to see. It is not visible on the High Street, it does not come with experts; it does not even make the news very much. Quietly, but with mounting anxiety, people are turning off the radiators, missing meals, slipping behind with the rent. We know it is happening; we know that the Food Banks are busier; we hear the stories of hardship. As City and County Councils face another round of budget cuts funds for those in hardship dry up and, try as we might, it is the poorest and the most vulnerable who will notice that most.
As the recession bites we enter a culture of blame. One party accuses another party, some castigate ‘the bankers’ (and muddle up a very complex business), most people get cross about big companies strangely unburdened by tax, and a few start dividing society up into ‘shirkers’ and ‘strivers’. Our divisions get wider and the rich, once more, do better than the poor.
If you conduct an internet search for ‘2013’ you will find that this is the Year of Water Co-operation, the International Year of Statistics, the Year of Natural Scotland and the Year of Quinoa. I am sure all of that is important, some of it very important indeed (even if I had to look Quinoa up. Most importantly though, this will be a year of hardship. Those graphs I mentioned are beginning to show that this recession is unusual and that recovery is a very long time coming; wages are not bouncing back and neither, of course is spending. As a consequence, this will be a year when the divisions in our communities will deepen. We must notice that.
The ministry of Christ, in which we all share, sought out those in hardship and overcame division. Lepers were healed, sinners forgiven and the outcasts were made welcome. It is not just our charity, money and kindness that is needed (though they will be important) it is our conviction that community is important that is being put to the test. 2013 needs to be the year we take a stand against prejudice and division. This needs to be a year of grace.
The Very Revd Dr David Hoyle is Dean of Bristol Cathedral